GMAT Test Prep Courses: Live vs. Self-Study GMAT Review

gmat test prep courses

The GMAT is a standardized exam that people all around the world take every year. A good GMAT score can help you gain admission to an elite business school, and admission to an elite business school opens doors for you. It can improve the odds of having a more successful career. As a result, there are countless GMAT test prep courses on the market, all designed to help students get the best score they possibly can. These resources range from books and pre-recorded videos to live online classes and in-person training sessions. If you want to maximize your GMAT score, you’ll need to get a GMAT test prep course. So, I’ll discuss your options to help you find the right one for you.

GMAT Test Prep Courses: Which One Should You Choose?

Deciding how to approach your GMAT studies can be very difficult. On the one hand, you may already be familiar with many of the topics on the GMAT. If you are, all you may need is a self-help book that can help you brush up on topics you are less familiar with. On the other hand, you can leverage in-class or online help from professionals to customize your learning and improve your score in a shorter period of time.

Either way, there are both advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. The approach you adopt depends on a number of factors, including your test time frame, budget, your ability to create and stick to a schedule, and other personal factors that will vary from person to person.

Live GMAT Review Courses

Professional prep courses provide highly organized and structured learning environments. In most cases, these courses pair you with a facilitator (which can be a software program, an online instructor, or an in-person instructor) who designs your course for you. They do this using automated testing tools that identify your strengths and weaknesses based on diagnostic tests. The facilitator then determines the topics and time frames within which you need to focus your efforts.

Advantages of Live GMAT Review

Structured Learning

Live review classes make learning easier by clearly outlining and providing to you whatever you need. Furthermore, study plans created by people with successful track records in this very field (ie. a GMAT instructor who very likely aced the test themselves) are a huge plus as well. There are many instructional approaches that the average student often doesn’t even think of. Conversely, facilitators can help you do away with ineffective learning or study approaches that you may have by introducing you to more effective and proven strategies.


Also related to structure, it is easier to study when you have someone there to guide you, even if you already know the basics of what you need to do. Think of consulting. Business managers, for the most part, are the experts in their fields. What do they need problem-solving consultants for? Because the consultants, like a personal trainer, can outline things for the manager to do in a consistent fashion, even things that the manager already knows are important. In the same way, your GMAT instructor can keep you on your toes and can help you stick to a proven study regimen and routine.

Valuable Experience

Virtually every live GMAT review service employs tutors who took and aced the GMAT exam themselves. Your tutor can provide you with invaluable tips, suggestions, and guidance for overcoming whatever personal or scholastic obstacle you may be facing during your prep for the GMAT.

Ample Practice Opportunities

All of the better prep classes, such as Kaplan’s GMAT Prep, offer 5 or more full-length GMAT tests so that you can really hone your skills and get into the groove of taking the exam before you actually take a live GMAT test.

Disadvantages of Live GMAT Review


Live GMAT review is generally very costly, with prices ranging from $500 to $3,000 for a comprehensive review course.

Limited Access

You can only access tutors or teachers for specific amounts of time. Online videos are available whenever you need them, but access to tutors in person or via chat or message is often restricted.

Learning Compatibility

Learning in a classroom with other learners may, in fact, inhibit your learning, if you are not comfortable with learning in a group.

Technical Issues

You may face technical issues such as internet connectivity issues or video loading issues while trying to access review material during your scheduled study periods.

Self-Study GMAT Test Prep Courses

In self-study, you generally purchase a prep book, look up free video tutorials, and create a study plan and schedule of your own, all on your own. You can pick and choose which topics to focus on and which ones to simply review, and you can study the way you are comfortable – whether by making flashcards, using online resources, working with a friend, or using whatever form of study suits you best.

Advantages of Self-Study GMAT Review

Passion-Driven Learning

People only really learn when they are motivated to do so. This is true whether you’re studying with texts, videos, or in a class. Some people learn better on their own than if they use a tutor or if they are made to follow a certain structure created by a GMAT professional.

No Time Constraints

Live GMAT review requires you to cover whatever you need to cover when the material is presented to you. Alternatively, you have to access it when you are given access to it. You can spend as much time as you want on topics of your choice when you study on your own.

Low Cost

All you really need for self-study is a self-help book. These books cover all of the topics in the GMAT. Once you have it, you are good to go. You just need to get through each topic and each section on your own. Do so in a steady fashion right up until your scheduled exam date.

Disadvantages of Self-Study GMAT Review

As with live GMAT review, self-study also has a number of flaws, including:

  • You may not be able to find additional resources for difficult topics.
  •  If you run into a wall, there isn’t anyone you can really turn to for guidance.
  • You may falter in following a schedule, or you may find it difficult to come up with a schedule at all.
  • You may not recognize personal weaknesses and may end up persistently committing the same mistakes without realizing them.
  • Some self-study students fall into a study rut. They spend too much time on one topic without moving on. As a result, they lose precious study time. They fail to recognize when to move on.

Choosing Between Live Review or Self-Study GMAT Test Prep Courses

Consider the following before deciding whether self-help or live review is better for you.

  • Your level of understanding: How well do you know the subjects of your GMAT test? Do you really need a tutor? Are you already very familiar with all of the topics that the test covers?
  • Your learning style: What is your learning style? Do you do better on your own? Do you need an external motivating factor (ie. a tutor) to push you?
  • Your level of access: Can you get your hands on the materials you need on your own? Are they easily accessible where you live?
  • Your schedule: Do you have the time to take a structured course? If you do not, then taking a course is probably not even an option for you.
  • Your finances: Can you afford to enroll in a live review class?

Your answers to these questions should help you decide between live review or self-study. The best live review classes, such as Kaplan’s and Manhattan Prep, are good options to consider. They provide learners with diverse study modes and options. They also provide tiered packages that fit the budget of most students.

My Recommendation for GMAT Test Prep Courses

If you can set up a study plan and follow it, you may be able to study on your own. You’ll need to assess your own strengths and weaknesses based on your performance on practice tests. But if you can’t, there’s no shame. The prep programs we’ve reviewed for you will definitely prepare you. So, check out our reviews, as they should help clear your mind about which program will best meet your needs.

About the Author Saad Mohammad

Saad is a GMAT teacher and mentor. As a member of the I Pass Team led by Stephanie Ng, Saad is our expert on all things GMAT!